Despite solid directing and acting, snip this one from your moviegoing plans

Running With Scissors

on October 20, 2006 by Wade Major
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Searing accounts of family dysfunctionality -- real and imagined, comic and dramatic -- have proliferated markedly since 1980's Oscar-winning Ordinary People, and with largely mixed results. When done well ( Terms of Endearment, American Beauty ), they earn Oscars. When done moderately well or aimed at niche audiences ( Home for the Holidays, The Family Stone, The Royal Tenenbaums ), they score middling success. When done poorly ( Julien Donkey-Boy, The Stupids ), they send audiences into either a deep slumber or screaming for the exits.

In Running with Scissors, Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy's adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' memoir, the result is problematically mixed, simultaneously easy to admire and almost impossible to like.

Joseph Cross ( Strangers with Candy and the current Flags of Our Fathers ) stars as the teenage Augusten, a generally decent kid trapped in a hellish home life. Dad (Alec Baldwin) is an emotionally distant sourpuss, while Mom (Annette Bening) is a borderline psychotic who blames everyone else for her failure to achieve fame as a poet. Mom's therapist Dr. Finch (Brian Cox) ought to be the last line of defense in Augusten's hope for a normal upbringing, but Finch and his family turn out to be just as crackers as everyone else, living in virtual squalor in a decrepit, pink manor that becomes Augusten's new home after his parents split and mom signs his guardianship over to Dr. Finch.

Augusten's relationship with his adopted family -- daughters Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) and their haggardly mother Agnes (Jill Clayburgh) -- as well as a more intimate relationship with another unstable Finch patient (Joseph Fiennes) do little but make the boy more determined than ever to break free of the madness, which roughly describes how audiences will feel while watching it.

There's really no way to find fault with the film's execution -- Murphy's direction is impeccable, and the performances, particularly Bening's, are uniformly excellent. The problem lies with the source material, a largely self-therapeutic memoir of late-‘70s excess and eccentricity that wallows in a kind of weirdness best experienced in very small doses. Unlike the far superior Little Miss Sunshine, there's no respite from the chaos, no ray of sunshine, no intermittent lifeline, no indication of a real, normal, outside world -- no room to breathe. That's clearly by design: Audience empathy with Augusten's predicament is the film's raison d'être, but the intensity and dosage is all wrong, a teenage boy's adolescent journey transformed into a two-hour movie-watching ordeal. That's not to say that audiences won't feel some sense of empathy, primarily for fellow filmgoers unfortunate enough to have suffered along with them. Distributor: Sony
Cast: Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Cross and Gwyneth Paltrow
Director/Screenwriter: Ryan Murphy
Producers: Ryan Murphy, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt and Brad Grey
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for strong language and elements of sexuality, violence and substance abuse
Running time: 121 min.
Release Date: October 20

Tags: Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Cross and Gwyneth Paltrow Director/Screenwriter: Ryan Murphy Producers: Ryan Murphy, Dede Gardner, Brad Pitt, Brad Grey, Genre, Drama, Sony
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